Over the past few weeks Ronan Keane has written about 3 S’s of Physical Fitness – Strength, Suppleness and Sleep. The next few articles will focus on speed as a component of Physical Fitness. Speed is such a big area and teams at all levels tend to focus a lot on the development of speed. Speed can be difficult to develop especially if we create fear of mistakes in our players. Sometimes continually shouting “faster, faster, faster” works but often coaches and players need a greater understanding of what they are trying to achieve.
In Gaelic Games there are 6 types of Speed.
1. Foot Speed
2. Hand Speed
3. Eye Speed
4. Mind Speed
5. Reaction Speed
6. Stroke or Kicking Speed
Top inter county players need all those six speeds to survive. If they are lacking in one or more, their opponents will exploit that weakness. Most youths have some speeds and others will have to be developed in conjunction with their coaches. John Conlon tells the story about not making the Clare under 14’s and during the winter he worked really hard on foot speed and stroke speed. The following year he captained the Clare under 15’s!
This week we will examine foot speed. Foot speed or running speed is associated with sprinting. Usain Bolt, Shelly Anne Fraser Price, Derval O’Rourke and Paul Hession spring to mind when we think of sprinting. They have running speed where stride length and stride frequency enable them to be faster than the majority of people in the rest of the world. A former Clare Development Squad hurler who is now 19 years of age is currently running 100m in 10.84 seconds. He wants to get that down to 10.20 by the time he is 23 in order to qualify for major championships. 100m sprinters run their race in 9-11 seconds. Theirs is a single sprint sport ran in a straight line. It is vastly different to Gaelic Games.
Last week The Aintree Grand National provided a huge test of stamina and jumping. These horses had to run 4.5 miles. They would not be able to win a 5 furlong race and the horses in a sprint race would have no chance in the Grand National. They are totally different sports. Sprint horses are far more delicate than National Hunt horses. Like Olympic sprinters they are lean and cannot take much punishment. They have fast twitch fibre muscles which are required for them to run at the enormous speeds needed for their sport. Grand National Horses would have slow twitch muscles as would Marathon Runners and Triathletes.
So what are the running speed requirements of Gaelic Games?
Let’s examine the facts. Research from Damien Young from 2008 tells us that the average distance covered in a 70 minute hurling match in Croke Park is about 10 km per player. 11% of the time a player is striding 3% of the time a player is sprinting and 2% of the time a player is max sprinting. “Players are constantly challenged to accelerate and decelerate from various positions and players are not required to run at the same pace for any length of time” The average sprint in inter county championship hurling is 7 metres and players rarely reach their maximum speed.
Children and teenagers have two windows of opportunity to develop speed. This means that their bodies react very well to speed training during these times. The first opportunity comes at about 7 years of age and lasts for less than 2 years. During this time coaches should focus on stride frequency (foot fall). Michael Flatley holds the world record of being able to take 28 steps per second. Children who do Irish Dancing at this age are developing speed. The second window of opportunity comes around the time of the child’s growth spurt (11-14 year of age). During this time coaches should focus on stride length and stride frequency. In the time between windows of opportunity for speed coaches should help to develop running technique or form.
So how do we develop foot speed specific to Gaelic Games? Running speed can only be developed when players are fresh. If we do sprinting with our players when they are fatigued we are not developing speed, we are on stamina. Stamina is another component of Physical Fitness. Players should have a work rest ratio of 1:6 to develop speed. This means that they should rest for 30 seconds if they are sprinting for 5 seconds to develop the fast twitch fibre muscles required for our games. Gaelic Games are multi sprint –multi directional sports. Players should be challenged to move forwards, backwards, laterally right and left, diagonally forwards and backwards right and left. Because deceleration is a very important component of speed, players should have to stop suddenly without slowing down at the end of their sprint. Players should not sprint uphill but downhill sprinting can be effective to develop a new pace.
Coaches can now buy a lot of equipment to help them develop speed. Hurdles and ladders are great to develop high knees, arm action and foot fall. Resistance bands are used to develop stride frequency. Line balls (ropes with 6 sliotars attached) are great for hurling specific speed training. It is always preferable to have players using a ball during all aspects of training. However coaches need to ensure that players are not being challenged with a difficult skill during speed training. An activity that is too challenging will cause players to slow down so this will not develop speed. Coaches are often best to ignore skill technique when focusing on speed.
Good coaches can help players develop foot speed by taking away all fear of failure. At a recent coaching session a colleague of mine kept saying to his players “Go your fastest and risk everything” and “I don’t care if you miss the ball, I want you to go your fastest”. The players missed the ball, and fell and made loads of mistakes but at the end of the session they all agreed that they had ran faster than they ever did before in their lives. They developed foot speed